Monday, November 23, 2015

Shop talk

After I had hung up from a call from someone at the newspaper where I worked, my wife commented that I had sounded different during that phone conversation than I normally sounded. She was right, of course. While speaking with my associate, my voice had been louder and deeper. I had spoken with more authority and more certainty than in my usual speech around the house. I had spoken in my business voice.

Many of us have different voices for work than we use with our family and friends. This may be especially true of anyone who works with the public, such as those who sell things or provide services. The receptionist at the newspaper where I worked seemed to have three different voices, one for when she answered the phone or spoke with the public, a second for when she spoke casually with white people and a third for when she spoke casually with other black people.

Sometimes it isn't just one's speech that changes from one situation to another. My editor, who retired at the end of last month, has always had a hearty laugh, but it seemed to be heartier in some situations. Sitting at my desk in the newsroom, I could tell from the sound of the laughter coming from his office whether he was speaking with one of his employees or with a businessman, a politician or some other visitor from the outside. I was rarely wrong.

The barber I had for many years was a congenial man in his shop, although I noticed that he usually said basically the same things each time I went in and asked the same questions. He never remembered the answers from one time to the next. When I encountered him a couple of times outside his shop, I greeted him, but he walked by as if he hadn't heard me and didn't know me. He was off duty and apparently didn't need the patter that helped him in his business.

It is not just our work that may give us a different voice (or laugh or personality). We may speak differently to children than to adults, to very old people than to younger people, to strangers than to friends, to "important" people and celebrities than to ordinary people, to those we are trying to impress (like dates or someone we hope will hire us) than to everybody else.

Whether these different voices are a good thing or a bad thing can depend upon the situation and our own motivation. Hypocrisy and phoniness are wrong, as is patronizing others. Yet often our other voices represent an improvement. They may show us what we are capable of. Perhaps that stronger, more confident voice I used on the phone is how I should sound all the time.

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